Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Enlightenment Philosophy: The Declaration of Independence

“The Declaration of Independence is a product of Enlightenment thought.” Using the line in quotes as a topic sentence, write a paragraph that uses at least THREE examples from the Declaration to ‘make’ your persuasive case.

The American Revolution was a period in U.S. history plagued by new revolutionary ideals that sprouted from the Enlightenment.  Philosophers aimed at applying rational principles to society and government; naturally, they played a large role in America’s journey to freedom.  In fact, the Declaration of Independence is a product of Enlightenment thought, characterized in two aspects: natural rights and popular sovereignty.
            The framers of the declaration kept natural rights in mind because they did not want a newborn America to fall back into the corrupted ways of England.  Therefore, explicit examples of natural rights are evident throughout the Declaration of Independence.  One of the most famous clauses reads as follows: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."  Clearly, Enlightenment philosophers, such as John Locke, had a major influence on this historical document in this respect.  Although the ideas of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” may seem blatantly obvious and undeniable, monarchies, such as the one in England, were notorious for denying these basic rights to their people.  During its creation, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston made sure to include the basic ideals of natural rights in the Declaration of Independence.
            Secondly, the idea of popular sovereignty, as explained by John Locke, is also prevalent in the document.  In all three parts of the declaration, Jefferson added concepts whose origins sprout from the political theories of Locke.  In the preamble, the declaration explains that when a government fails to protect the basic rights its creation intended it to guard, it is the duty of the people to establish a new institution that will.  This is almost a restatement of Locke’s “right to rebellion.”  However, Locke did mention in his Two Treatises of Government that insignificant abuses that occur few and far between cannot be taken into account and result in rebellion.  Jefferson preempts this in the second part of the declaration, where he lists the shocking train of abuses that the King of England imposes on the American colonies.  Some of the violations include the lack of trial by jury, the maintaining of a standing army during times of peace, the imposition of taxes without consent, and the cutting off of trade with the rest of the world.  Surely, this list of failures on the behalf of the current government is deserving of substitution, which is what the conclusion of the declaration presents.  The colonies assert their independence in the following clause: “…these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved…”  Clearly, the writers of the declaration are trying to express the fact that the power lies in the people, demonstrating in effect the power of popular sovereignty.
           In summary, the Declaration of Independence is a document that has its roots in Enlightenment ideals, such as natural rights and popular sovereignty.  Philosophers like John Locke played a large role in influencing its rhetoric and justifications, those of which Jefferson utilized to place America on its way to freedom! 

No comments: